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The Grandmaster - Film Review

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by TheOnlyFiona (subscribe)
In real life, I do discuss food exactly like how I write in my food review articles. As always my food reviews are scored only on what I've tried and the service expected of that type of establishment.
Published February 1st 2014
There's always one grander than thou
The Grandmaster
The Grandmaster - original Hong Kong release poster

10 years in filming alone, director Wong Kar-Wai's Oscar nominated Ip Man tribute is beautifully shot. For those who are unfamiliar with Wong Kar-Wai's films, above all else the beauty of how a scene is captured is paramount. Be prepared to watch some of the most artistically rendered martial arts fight scenes ever shot. Watch The Grandmaster for those scenes alone. For those uninitiated in Chinese martial arts cinema, this does not include the characters 'jumping around' during fight scenes. A good fight scene is realistic, full of energy and utilises the setting innovatively. Wong Kar-Wai captures this, along with details, such as how water moves during a splash.

Plotwise the film differs from other tribute films. A few directors all released tributes to real life martial arts grandmaster Ip Man during the last 7 years. Wong Kar-Wai was the first to start working on his tribute and he was the last to finish. Wong's film is less a tribute to Ip Man than it is to the notion of 'a grandmaster'. It is a homage to the martial arts genre.

The film only focuses only on a section of Ip Man's life. Loosely focusing on when he leaves his home in Taishan to setting up a martial arts academy in Hong Kong around the second world war. At the heart of the film is the world of martial arts, the different disciplines/types and different schools. It was a different era where your discipline/type of martial arts meant something, defining who you were as a person. Conversely this highlights the honour and hard work a disciple had to go through in order to become a representative of their school.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, whom Western audiences will know from Ang Lee's Lust, Caution and John Woo's RedCliff, plays Ip Man with style. Confidant in his ability and skills, Ip Man quickly becomes the representative of his Wing Chun school (of martial arts). Its a case of he cam (to the arena), he saw (his opponent) and he delivered (beat his opponent). Its not long before Ip Man beats out other schools to represent Southern China against a challenger from the North.

The first part of the film centres on the battle for martial arts supremacy between Southern and Northern China. Whilst the second half focuses less on Ip Man and more on the Northern challengers, the Gong family, as a vehicle to accentuate the struggles of martial arts succession. Veteran actor Wang Qingxiang exemplifies old master Gong, while Memoirs of a Geisha's Zhang Ziyi is Gong's only child/successor to the full 72 stances of the Gong family (martial art).

The second world war is a backdrop that signifies changing times, where the glory of martial arts is not what it once was. Relationships between master and disciple are shockingly broken or reduced and casual. The dignity and honour of a discipline is avenged at the cost of its survival and succession. The bitter poison of revenge slowly but surely destroys the soul.

The notion of a grandmaster if open to interpretation. Is Ip Man really the grandmaster or are we given an ideal, an aspiration, a philosophy? Are we given facets as exemplified by the various characters and how they deal with their art or is the film simply a tribute to a genre? The Grandmaster is not the film you would have expected. The plot follows less on the characters and more on what they exemplify in the martial arts world. Open for interpretation, the Grandmaster creates as many allusions to the tilte as its nuances in artistic cinematography.

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Where: In selected cinemas
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